In a few minutes, my TiVo will turn itself on and begin recording the eighth episode of the fifth, and final, season of HBO's masterpiece about police, drugs, the street, politics, bureaucratic corruption and inefficiency, and the press in Baltimore, The Wire.
The show, the first three seasons of which I took with me on my Road Trip around the American southwest last summer, is almost certainly one of the best TV shows of all time. There are surely no shortage of legitimate TV critics who have laid their reputations on the line to say so.
For me, watching the show has been a chronological noodle. That is, I originally discovered the show midway through the original broadcast of season four and then caught up by watching the first three seasons on DVD.
Then, after watching the first three seasons a second time--and appreciating them even more--I got the fourth season on DVD and began watching those episodes on my MacBook Pro while on the bus to and from work.
Watching such a show--replete with stark violence, occasional nudity, and visceral drug use--on the bus is a tricky proposition. It sometimes requires turning the laptop so that no one can see what's on the screen.
But mostly, it's just good entertainment for the hour-long ride each way.
When HBO began broadcasting season five, I was still watching season four on DVD, as well as finishing season two. This made for some interesting interpretations of events on-screen since the show is a confidently crafted five-season arc in which the smallest developments in one season may have epic consequences in later seasons.
So before I offer my overall critique of the show, I turn now to my one major prediction--one I haven't seen made anywhere else, but which, if I'm right, will have a major impact on the show.
If you've followed the last three seasons, you're no doubt aware of the quick rise of Baltimore drug lord Marlo Stanfield. And if so, then you know who Chris and Snoop, Marlo's assassins, are.
In season four, we watched Marlo ascend to the top of the West Baltimore drug hierarchy by killing off nearly two dozen rivals and others who crossed him. Yet because he hid their bodies in the city's ignored vacant buildings, the police for quite some time didn't even know they were dead.
When the bodies were finally discovered, there was almost no physical evidence tying the crimes to Chris and Snoop, despite the fact that the police knew who the murderers were. They just couldn't prove it.
And as we get ready for episode eight of season five, Chris and Snoop have yet to be brought to justice.
And I'm here to tell you how they will eventually fall.
If you remember, in season four, Marlo had a run-in with a corner store security guard. He was unhappy that the guard talked back to him, so he had Chris and Snoop kill the man.
They did so, and took him to one of the vacants.
And then, in what may have seemed at the time to be a throw-away moment, there was a brief moment of comedy as Snoop pointed out that she'd kept the guard's badge. But Chris, not wanting anything to do it, grabbed it and threw it off to the side, where it disappeared among the weeds, dirt and crumbled urban detritus.
But in fiction, nothing is there for no reason. Everything is added with a purpose, and that's particularly true in a show like The Wire, where everything ties together.
And so my prediction is that after weeks and weeks of Detective Bunk Moreland's looking for some way to tie Chris and Snoop to the killings of the bodies in the vacants, after the city's forensics labs screwed up every other piece of evidence he'd gathered, and after the major story line of season five--the fake homeless killings--has dominated the police department's attention, I'm here to tell you that that security guard's badge is going to be the thing that does it.
After all, why else make a point of including that scene? And think about it: both Chris and Snoop touched the badge, surely leaving fingerprints.
And with all the other evidence messed up, what is left? I foresee, whether it's in tonight's episode or one of the two others that are left, a visit to that vacant, and the discovery of the badge.
What a perfect way to link a little, mostly unnoticed moment, to a major conclusion in the story's arc.
Now that I have that out of the way, I'll make my own conclusion with my brief thoughts on season five and the series as a whole.
Season five is, in my opinion and that of many of the critics I've read, the weakest of the series. By far.
It is built around what seems like a ridiculous plot line of two of the most accomplished murder PO-lice (you have to pronounce it that way) fabricating a serial homeless killer. And then, to top it off, one of the Baltimore Sun's reporters, picks up on the killings and uses it to fabricate his own series of self-aggrandizing stories. Together, they promise to burn down the entire structure of power in the city.
Yet, it's silly and way over the top.
As always, the part of the show that focuses on the street, on the drug dealers and the politics that goes on there, is the best. This season, the police narrative has suffered, and surprisingly, the newspaper part of the season has also been weak.
It's surprising because what has made the show so special is creator David Simon's uncompromising verisimilitude based on his years as a metro reporter for the Sun. His portrayals of almost every element of Baltimore's fabric--the police, the streets, the ports, City Hall, and so forth--have been brilliant and rich.
So it's been a shame that the newspaper story line--the one he should have the best handle on of all--has been so superficial.
On the other hand, one thing that has been a hallmark of The Wire has been its never-ending ability to surprise. So, I suppose I wouldn't be shocked if somehow, during the final three episodes, Simon manages to pull everything together in a way the not only salvages the season, but elevates it to the sublime levels of its four predecessors.
Still, each of those predecessors had clearly established their places among the all-time great TV seasons by episode seven, and so far, season five just hasn't done that.
Ultimately, though, even with a lesser fifth season, The Wire still holds its place as the best all-time show in my estimation. I would previously have put The West Wing or Hill Street Blues in that lofty spot. But there's just something about The Wire--perhaps because it's on HBO and therefore able to pull no punches--that has me and so many others calling it the all-time best.
So, as we get ready for the sad truth that in two weeks, there will never again be a new episode of the show, what's left is to appreciate, and, yes, evaluate, what is in front of us now.
Until, that is, season five comes out on DVD and I have another 10 hours of material to watch on my rides to and from work.
And when that happens, I'll try to shield the screen so my neighbors don't have to see anything they wouldn't want to.